News focus: Nhill Learning Centre, Centre for Participation help refugees integrate into communities | Photos, pictures

TWO Wimmera organisations have support systems for refugees to develop the skills needed to settle into their new communities.  

The Nhill Learning Centre provides a range of programs to help Karen refugees become a part of the community – from English language and skill building programs. 

Centre chief executive Annette Creek said the town’s Karen population was an important part of the community. She said it was rewarding to help the Karen people integrate and build a new home for themselves in the region. 

Mrs Creek said staff members taught Karen people the skills needed to find employment and socialise, which helped them settle into their lives in Australia. 

It is important that they have the chance to learn these skills so that they can be a part of the community and communicate with us

Annette Creek

“We do extensive work in a lot of different ways,” she said. “We work with them to whatever their needs might be and help them integrate.”

The Nhill Learning Centre also established a community enterprise called Paw Po products. The business was created about two years ago for Karen refugee women who sew a range of items to sell including aprons, oven mitts, cushion covers, pouches and bags.

Mrs Creek said the women had been stay-at-home mums and the centre’s staff had taught the women to sew, along with business management skills. She said the shop was a huge benefit to the community and created an interaction between the Karen and Nhill community. 

Mrs Creek said the centre was integral in bridging the two communities. 

“It gives them a place to come and get that help, which builds their confidence and English language skills,” she said. “It is important that they have the chance to learn these skills so that they can be a part of the community and communicate with us.” 

It’s about ... breaking down barriers between refugees and the Australian community to make it more inclusive

Robbie Millar

Centre for Participation learning and community development manager Robbie Millar said helping refugees feel included and connected to their new community was essential. He said the organisation created a range of programs that could help refugees settle.  

“It’s about building their skill base, knowledge about the community, connection to other people and breaking down barriers between refugees and the Australian community to make it more inclusive,” he said.  

Mr Millar said the organisation had worked with a lot of women in particular, to give them the skills and confidence to become more involved. 

He said the people participating in the English language course tended to branch out to more courses, which led them to mainstream education and work places. 

“The programs are driven with the purpose of helping them feel connected, which makes them want to stay in the region,” he said.